She was my first cockatiel, among a few parakeets. A young bird, she quickly bonded with me. Well, there was no one else around. At the time I was unmarried and lived on my own. She flew to me, perching on my finger while allowing me to rub her little white head as she turned this way and that against my chin.
A Christmas gift from my choir, the colors in her feathers would not reveal her sex for another five months. I thought Nowell would be a great name but was she a Noel? I had chosen an Old English carol for the choir to sing that year and in it Nowell was pronounced No-way. Although that pronunciation solved the sex issue, I opted for Nowee.
Three years later, my new husband gifted me with another cockatiel—a twin in every way her mirror-image except she did not care for him. While Nowee would turn her orange cheek for some rubbing, Charlie, not waiting for his turn, would fly over, too and peck at my skin. Stopping her head rubs to move Charlie became an irritant to her. Expressing her strong feelings about this interruption in attention, Nowee started pecking at me too. It hurt. So slowly, over years, she was less interested in them as much as I was less interested in being bit. Eventually, too, she wouldn’t even sit on my finger but preferred my husband’s shoulder. I accepted all this without too much sadness, probably the way mothers might miss holding their babies but rejoice in their independence. But like mothers of older children, I would seize a moment and reach out. But even after Charlie’s sudden death, my Nowee would not come back to me. She would rub her head against a plastic toy in her cage but if I offered my finger, she would draw blood. And so it went over many years. She was happier without my interference in her life. She tolerated the daily intrusion of food and water. Barely.
The other parakeets had each died, leaving her alone in the large display cage.
Knowing she was failing, I moved her to small hospital cage where she perched closest to the sunny window. A few days later I opened her new door to change the food dish and she was facing me, prepared to jump on my arm. Surprised, but without thought, a memory motion from so many years before, I offered my finger as a perch and she hopped right on. Stunned, I placed her in the crook of my arm and carried her around. I gingerly offered to pet her head but no, too soon. A few days later though, she waited again by the door and this time, like so many times in her youngest years, she offered her head for some rubs. It felt like a goodbye.
Still, I was so grateful she had remembered how we began. I was so grateful that I noticed the signs, that I was ready to change the habit, that I held space for a different response, that she was willing to try again.
Twenty four years ago the choir had gathered in the sacristy of the church for a break during our last rehearsal before Christmas. It was then they excitedly waited for me to unwrap the little box that held a bird.
This year there are no Christmas choir rehearsals and there is no Nowell.